For many, London can feel familiar before you’ve even set foot inside the city. Like New York, it is packed with iconic buildings and sights and has been the setting for many a famous film and TV series. What they don’t give you is any idea of just how varied life is in England’s capital. From the City of Westminster (where Parliament and Big Ben stand) to the markets and music bars of Camden, the hipster enclaves of Hoxton and Shoreditch or the designer boutiques and pattiseries of Kensington, there’s plenty for you here. Since July is also summere here, it’s the best time to explore the city. So here’s your guide to what’s what, and how you can join in.
While there are huge parks closer to the centre of London, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are worth the trip westwards. They may be 250 years old, but there’s plenty here for the modern outdoor adventurer, too. You can still wander the old Victorian Palm House but these gardens are a base for research and education into botanical studies. As summer arrives the surroundings are perfect to relax outside in the sun.
It’s free, it’s right on Trafalgar Square and you’re welcome to simply swing by and stand before artistic greatness whenever you like. Perfect, whether you’ve got ten minutes in your lunchbreak to check out Van Gogh’s ’Sunflowers’ or time to wander the entire, glorious collection of Western European paintings. It’s worth checking out the National Portrait Gallery next door, too.
There’s loads to see and do on the Southern side of the Thames. Start at Westminster Bridge and you’ll pass Shrek’s Adventure, SEA LIFE London Aquarium and The London Dungeon before getting to the London Eye. The slowly revolving wheel gives everyone (who dares) views to the north, south, east and west, making this a brilliant way to get the measure of the city (www.londoneye.com).
Walk further and you’ll come to the Southbank Centre, BFI Southbank, Royal Festival Hall and striking, modernist National Theatre before reaching Shakespeare’s Globe, where you can see theatre like Londoners in Tudor times did. The Globe has been carefully recreated to show the kind of setting Shakespeare would have written all his plays for (www.shakespearesglobe.com). At that point you can reward yourself for all that culture and walking by visiting nearby Borough Market, a foodie’s dream.
Where to stay
Modelled on the lines of the 1920s Marconi House next door but with modern styling inside (see the nine-storey pyramid atrium and rooms featuring triangular windows with views onto Aldwych). The tenth floor roof-terrace bar offers exceptional views and good people watching of the glamorous crowd it attracts.
This small but charming Clerkenwell townhouse is as creakily calm as a country manor, with individually decorated rooms kitted out in sumptuous old-fashioned furnishings. Rooms are all named after characters from Clerkenwell’s past so you can find our more about the history of the area while you’re there. Smithfield Market and St John’s Gate are right on the doorstep as well as loads of great bars (check out Zetter Townhouse) and restaurants (St John).
There are several direct flights a day from Hamad International Airport to London Heathrow and Gatwick. For a cheaper option, Fly Pegasus flies via Istanbul to London Stansted for around QR2,570 return. Average flight time is 11 hours (www.flypgs.com). Direct flights are available via Qatar Airways Flights are, on average, around QR4,300 return.
It couldn’t be easier. There’s an extensive network of public transport including buses, the London Underground (or the Tube), overground trains and pick-up and drop-off bicycles. We strongly recommend walking as much as possible, it’s often much quicker than getting the Tube to a nearby place, you can see more of the city and it given you the opportunity to see how the different parts of the city are stitched together. Visit www.tfl.gov.uk for more information.